Fashionably many Icelandic words for snow

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Spotted by Jonathan Lighter on a recent trip to Iceland: "A big ad for 66°North fashions, prominently displayed at Keflavik Airport, telling passengers everywhere that

There are over [a] 100 words for snow in Icelandic.
Only one for what to wear.

Here's an image, from the Flickr feed of Brian Suda (helpfully labeled "Perpetuating the Snow Clone Myth"):

And here's another ad captured on Flickr:

The importation of the old snow-word myth to Icelandic soil — co-opted by an Icelandic clothing company to describe the Icelandic language itself — is a bit odd, since we usually hear it applied to various exotic Others. But perhaps what 66°North is doing here is exoticizing Iceland for international visitors (hence the use of English), playing off the original snowclone now familiar to a global audience. Hey, whatever sells 500-euro parkas.

(I hear Icelanders have lots of words for "green", too.)


  1. Nancy Friedman said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    "A 100"?

  2. Nathan Sanders said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    If you pronounce 100 as [hʌndrəd] instead of [wʌnhʌndrəd], then a 100 is perfectly fine!

  3. Brian said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    Could have been worse. It could have said "an 100".

  4. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    Odd that there is no actual snow in the photo.

  5. Mark P said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    I see "a 100" often. I assume the expected reading is "a hundred."

  6. Jim said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

    But do they have as many words for rain as English does?

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

    So what is the "one [word] for what to wear"? Are we supposed to read "sixty-six degrees north" as a single word?

  8. D.O. said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

    Interesting. What about the second half? Only one word for what to wear, really? Everybody understands that it is not a statement of linguistic fact, but an advertising BS. The first statement should be treated likewise.

  9. David L said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Icelandic has only one word for "clothes" – literally translated, it means "stuff that keeps you from freezing to death on this godforsaken rock in the middle of the ocean."

  10. mollymooly said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    I rarely see "a 100"; much commoner is "100s of". I think the rarer "00s of" is morphographosemantically better.

  11. Simon Fodden said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    Does it even snow in Iceland?

    [(myl) They do have glaciers, you may recall, from which certain inferences can be drawn. And even at (entirely unglaciated) Keflavik, the records for (say) December 2009 show nine days of snow.]

  12. tudza said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    "I already have a bad name for the Easter Bunny." – Bugs Bunny

  13. John Cowan said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

    One might by the same token infer that it snows a lot in Antarctica, but in fact the place is a desert, with an average annual precipitation of 50 mm. By contrast, the Sahara gets perhaps 75 mm.

    [(myl) They say that academic battles are so bitter because there's so little to fight over. So perhaps the Antarcticans have so many words for snow because they get so little of it :-)]

  14. Adam said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    Well, the Vikings did learn a few things from the Eskimos.

  15. John said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

    Do they have 100 words for "bankrupt" too?

  16. Rubrick said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

    This ad has unintended irony for those of us in the National Puzzlers' League: we use "Icelandic" as a term of art to refer to something without factual basis which was made up purely to make a particular puzzle work (e.g., "The part about my dating Queen Elizabeth is Icelandic.")

    (For those curious about the etymology, years ago someone published a puzzle involving a zoo in Iceland; it was later pointed out that Iceland had no zoos. Such puzzles came to be referred to as "Icelandic zoos", later shortened to simply Icelandic.)

  17. Kylopod said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

    I suppose the connection with snow is the word "ice" in the country's name. But I wonder what other countries and peoples will turn out to have 100 words for snow. What's next? Russians? Finns? Penguins?

  18. chris said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    My reaction was the same as Peter Taylor's. Can we infer from this that although there may not be anything interesting about their words for snow, there is in fact something interesting about the Icelandic word for "word", namely that it can mean an entire term made up of more than one (English) word? Or was this just another example of fuzzy thinking on the part of some copy writer? Of course, even if the former were the case, it's still foolish because they wrote the thing in English. But at least it would explain where it came from.

  19. danny bloom said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:07 am

    What i had said what urban legend. There are not 1o0 words for snow in Icelandic, that is PR bs. wake up, word mavens!

    [(myl) Some background reading for you.]

  20. Daniel Barkalow said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 1:08 am

    I'd like to see an ad for a ski resort which says "English has more than (large number) words for 'snow'", and, in small print, lists (large number) English words that can be used to refer to different textures and formations of snow on a ski slope. And it would be provably true, because, in addition to all of those words, there's "snow".

  21. websearch said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    Attention, National Puzzlers: Reykjavik has a zoo.

  22. Estel said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    websearch: The Reykjavik zoo opened in 1990; I don't know when the National Puzzlers came up with the expression, but it could plausibly predate the zoo.

  23. Rubrick said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

    websearch/Estel: I believe it did indeed predate the opening of that zoo, though by how much I'm not sure; I first learned the term in 1994.

  24. Chainsaw said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    The coinage of "Icelandic zoo" (something without factual basis which was made up purely to make a particular puzzle work) is estimated to be ca. late 1970s.

  25. Mark P said,

    June 27, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    Does it snow in Iceland? Here's the URL for a photographic overview that shows the Icelandic Met Office in Reykjavik in 2006. There is snow on the ground.

  26. un malpaso said,

    June 28, 2010 @ 2:53 am

    [awful humor]
    Isn't their "one word for what to wear", vattuvjær?
    As in, "Hmmmm… vattuvjær today?"
    [end awful humor]

  27. chris said,

    June 28, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    So perhaps the Antarcticans have so many words for snow because they get so little of it

    It's not how much snow they get, but how long they keep it once they have got it.

    Although, strictly speaking, if you leave aside immigrants, the Antarcticans have no words for anything. :D

  28. Panu said,

    July 7, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    In Finland we actually do have lots of words for different kinds of snow and ice, but they are typically compound words beginning with something descriptive and ending in –lumi "snow" or –jää "ice".

  29. Heikki said,

    July 7, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    Panu: Not exactly. It's perfectly fine to just use the beginnings, viz. 'nuoska', 'tykky', 'viti', 'puuteri' or 'höty'. For items that can be prefixed with 'lumi-', such as 'hanki', 'kinos', 'pyry', 'tuisku', 'hiutale' or 'kide', it's also perfectly OK to use them without the prefix. And there are also many non-compound items like 'riite', 'loska', 'sohjo', 'räntä', 'kohva', 'nattura' or 'utukka'. A passable quick reference for some common snow-related words in Finnish can be found at

    Dialectal or colloquial expressions are of course a completely different ball of snow, see e.g.

  30. Picky said,

    July 10, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    Oh dear, Heikki, do you mean it depends what you mean by "word"?

  31. daniel magnusson said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    No we don´t we do not have 100 words for snow, we have one word for snow : "snow". That's about it. This advertisement is to give the picture that we are dealing with snow a lot. But we are not, if it snows here in Iceland most of the people complain about how little it is or they complain about how much it is. Then they use the word "snow", they say " It snows a lot and I can't drive my car" or they say " It doesn't snow enough for me to go skiing" In both of these terms the word snow is used the same way, or to describe a white cold substance made from water. There are people that say "powder snow". But what do they know ? I mean is there a snow that is not powder snow. Maybe they also say "wet water" ?
    But we do call little tiny baby's "rassgöt" which is literally assholes. !!!! What do you think about them apples ?

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